NFC – Communicating Near You?

23rd November, 2013

Near Field Communications (NFC) will be coming to a mobile handset near you. Or you could be unaware that your handset already supports the technology (unless you are an iPhone user – Apple steadfastly refuses to embrace NFC, heavily undermining the technology and potentially guiding it toward a period of stagnation due to  lack of receiver/function point roll-out and wider consumer market awareness). And if we are to believe what we are told, NFC will enable all manner of freedoms but most specifically the cash free world where all accounts are bonded with our mobile devices to enable us to leave our wallets at home. But, true to most mobile technologies it will have other uses that do not involve parting with cash that we never see.

NFC works through radio communications established between two objects containing an NFC chip (or ‘tag’) and allows the transfer of information over a very short distance (inches). It is the evolution of RFID and is becoming ever so slightly more common. The majority of the current market is comprised of Android devices and realistically until Apple make the transition nearly 25% of the potential market will be unreachable. NFC’s primary objective is data transmission over short distances so immediately the technology will be utilised to enable contactless payments, small data exchanges and as a ‘piggy-back’ for other faster wireless communications (e.g. Bluetooth, WiFi).

In much the same way as QR codes can be utilised to store and share data, as can NFC chips. Strategically placed NFC chips can provide contextualised information in a situation in an extremely accessible manner. QR codes were eventually deemed to be quite fiddly and tiresome to engage with but NFC should alter this perception. Certainly in terms of participatory events such as research the introduction of NFC chips should enable users to focus entirely on their findings/subject matter rather than struggling with the technology at hand.

To fully deploy NFC will take some time (handsets etc…see first paragraph) but at the moment it could be used for localised research projects that require groups of participants to share and collate their data before progressing to the next objective, or to locate specific predetermined locations with a ‘tag’ and contribute contextualised data specific to the locale. The ability for smaller groups of participants to readily contribute feedback to a specific location could prove useful to some formats of research though this could also present problems in terms of participants affecting each other, morphing their own readings into those around them. Furthermore, for on the fly instant feedback procedures it could be very useful; a quick scan as an individual leaves a hospital prompting a short four question survey relating to service, cleanliness, time and overall satisfaction. Basic, I know, but as the technology spreads so will the possibilities.

It is yet to be seen if NFC will wholly enhance research techniques. The technology is still very young, even in terms of mobile and has yet to be fully reported on or cited as a reference point in a major study. As more potential participants begin to utilise the technology and become comfortable making contactless payments perhaps it will begin to enter the common market and as such enable researchers to add another string to the mobile research bow. One thing is for sure though, that the rise of NFC will most likely coincide with a decrease in the deployment of fiddly QR codes for this streamlined, enhanced offering.